Gary parks board quandary: Long on needs, short on funds
BY MICHAEL GONZALEZ Post-Tribune correspondent February 26, 2014 4:24PM
Updated: March 28, 2014 8:56AM
GARY — A simple refund request turned a harsh light on the painful realities faced by the Gary Parks and Recreation Department at Wednesday’s board meeting.
But the department heard some good news — and can make plans with federal funds — from another city department.
A Gary resident’s request for a refund of money she paid to use the Borman Square Pavilion launched the tough discussion. The woman complained of the pavilion’s poor conditions and got her money back, but the issue went well beyond a refund.
“Here we have a parks department without important staff,” said board president Dwight Gardner, citing a list of needs. “We have no electrician. We have no plumbers. We have no carpenters. We have no full-time maintenance people.
“We are continually bearing the burden of running a city parks department with nothing nearly adequate in personnel to make it happen.”
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department, like most offices here, has been decimated by a trifecta of bad financial news: Property tax collection rates are down at least 40 percent; what little the city collects is bound by a property tax cap enshrined in the state constitution; and, the city’s population — especially of tax-paying homeowners — continues to plummet.
For example, the board budgeted $882,000 for 2013, but it received $466,800. The 2014 budget calls for $910,000, but, until property tax distributions from the state come through, there is no telling what the parks department will get.
Still, the city is responsible for maintaining and running 56 parks, 18 park pavilions and three out of its eight public pools.
The pavilions need work, but that does not end residents’ desire to hold their open houses, birthday parties and breakfast meetings at their local park pavilions, said Parks Superintendent Lori Latham.
“Does it need some repair? Absolutely,” she said of Borman Square. “Does it need work? Absolutely, but it is still something the community enjoys.”
The department used some of the relief it received from the Community Development Department in the form of $150,000 in federal funds. A third of that was used to repair and open the three swimming pools, and the board approved another roughly $54,000 of the money in a number of repairs Wednesday.
That money will pay for interior paint jobs and roofing repairs to five pavilions and the South Gleason Park Clubhouse.
In other business, a request for bids to reopen the Marquette Park concession stand fetched one bid. Carmella Saraceno, owner of the year-old Miller Beach Market Place store submitted that bid, with plans to offer hot dogs, pizza and salsa and chips alongside spinach pies and turkey barbecue.
The department took the bid under advisement and will make a recommendation at its next meeting.